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N.Y. state college takes the plunge, plans 11n WLAN rollout this summer

N.Y. college's Meru-based net will have up to 900 access points, 130Mbps throughput minimum.

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June 21, 2007 06:04 PM ET - A small New York state college will be the site of the first large-scale wireless LAN based on the draft 802.11n high-throughput standard.

Within the next two weeks, Morrisville State College will start initial testing of thin access points from Meru, plus the vendor’s existing 802.11abg devices and early models of its recently announced 11n device, the AP300. Even at this stage, the net is posing intriguing new challenges for Morrisville, Meru and IBM Global Technology Services, the systems integrator for the project. (Questions or comments for Morrisville? Go to our forum.)

By the end of September, the college plans to have installed a campus-wide net of some 900 11n access points. The net will also include Meru’s recently announced high-end companion controller, the MC5000. Morrisville VP of Information Services Jean Boland says she expects conservatively that each AP will offer 130Mbps of throughput, shared by whatever number of clients associate to it. That compares with 20-25Mbps for 11a nets, also in the 5-GHz band, and 11g nets in the 2.4-GHz band.

The actual 11n deployment hinges on the availability of Meru’s AP300, announced in April. The school’s athletes arrive back on campus Aug. 10 and Boland plans to have a wireless net ready by them. To do so, the college will deploy Meru’s existing 11abg AP as needed, replacing them with the AP300 as it becomes available in late August. In any case, by the end of September, the 1,800 students on this rural campus southwest of Syracuse, will become a living laboratory for 802.11n.

Bold and tech-savvy

Boland won’t say how much the project will cost. IT vendors typically have special pricing plans for education customers. And a common practice is to cut some kind of additional discount for being a bleeding edge customer. But the list price for Meru’s 11n is still something of a shock: $1,495, or nearly two times the price of Meru’s current high-end 802.11a/b/g AP. Pricing for the new controller is expected to be about $65,000.

Morrisville prides itself on being technology savvy, not to mention bold. In 2003, it scrapped wired phones for students, hitting on a plan to issue Nextel cell phones to all students. It’s had a plan for issuing ThinkPad notebooks to incoming freshmen since 1998.

Since 11n is so new to the enterprise, to make it practicable, Morrisville had to figure out how to equip the notebooks so they can access the high-throughput channels.

New freshmen starting in September will be equipped with college-owned Lenovo ThinkPad T61s notebooks, with a built-in 802.11abgn chipset. Those PCs will be configured to access the campus WLAN on the 5-GHz band, via one of the two radios in the Meru AP. The second radio in the AP, on the 2.4 band, will devote one 20 MHz channel to 11b/g clients. The remaining two 20 MHz channels will be blended into one, wider, 40 MHz 11n channel to support clients that may have an 11n plug-in card or USB dongle, which, though still rare, are more likely to be found than comparable client radios in the 5-GHz band.

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